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NON-QUALIFYING FLIGHTS | YOUNGEST RTW PILOTS
ROUND THE WORLD IN A MOONEY
by Paul Straub in N300MD
After crossing the Atlantic Ocean four times in the airplane for which I had bought for $12,700 I wanted to do the ultimate, that is, fly the Pacific. Besides my good friend, Henning Huffer, who had done it several times, had enthralled me with tales of cruising the balmy South Sea Islands in a light plane and about the enticing females who inhabited the region. With good tailwinds I could hop over the Atlantic in 16 hours and arrive in time for a late evening dinner, but the Pacific - well I'll have to play hopscotch on the islands.
I flew out to Flo Air in Wichita and discussed the problem. The owner and manager grabbed a flexible ruler and took me down to the guy who made the tanks. He began to measure the interior of the Mooney which is about the size of an old Volkswagen beetle. After a few minutes he put his head outside the door and spoke to the head honcho
So they built tanks that went from floor to ceiling everywhere but the little left seat where I was supposed to sit. They had to build them in sections just to get them through the only door which was on the right side. Of course the back seat was taken out and replaced with tanks which went from floor to ceiling. The right seat was also removed and a tank went from the floor to within ten to eleven inches of the ceiling. For me to get into the pilot's seat, I had to shimmy through a slot ten to eleven inches wide feet first. I learned to take off my belt just to narrow my body the width of the belt buckle and also to exhale and I took off my shoes, pushed them in ahead of me and put them on after I had squeezed through my slot. This ten inch opening was also to be my escape hatch if I should ever want to get out of the plane in an emergency including exiting in the water onto my life raft. My life raft and emergency equipment including flares, portable emergency locator transmitter and life vest I would position on the wing while I crawled in. I put a short rope on each piece of emergency equipment and laid the ends of the rope on the tanks in the slot before I entered. Once inside I would use the ropes to pull the equipment close enough that I could reach through the slot, grasp the equipment and pull it into the slot above the tanks. It was necessary to close and latch the door from the inside. I could swing the door almost shut with the tips of my fingers but latching it was more difficult. I had to reach over the front tank and blindly find the door handle and latch it. Once again by exhaling and reaching as far as possible I was able to close and lock the only door. Then I stuffed the space where I entered with my life saving equipment.
The front tank occupied the entire space where a co-pilot would sit and also covered the right side of the instrument panel. Many important flight instruments are on the right side of the panel including the tachometer. To solve this dilemma I held a mechanics mirror between the tank and the instruments when I wanted information from them. A mechanics mirror is similar to a dentist's mirror except that it has a hinge on the mirror and a small lever on the handle to change the angle of the mirror when it is in place. The instruments, of course read backwards when viewed through a mirror but I adjusted to that after a short time. Crowded also into this space was the oil addition pump which allowed me to replace engine oil in flight. Completely filled with fuel, the plane would be 25% over legal gross weight with a center of gravity just at rearward edge of the envelope. To move the center of gravity forward, to put it within the limits, a 15 lb. sack of buckshot was wired in the forward engine compartment. Permission to take off at 25% over gross was obtained from the engineering department of the Federal Aviation Agency in Oklahoma City. I had gotten permission to take off at 10% over gross on my previous trips over the Atlantic. This can be issued from the local GADO (General Aviation District Office).
We installed a HF (high frequency) set with a reel for the antennae between my feet. The antennae, which would trail 100 feet behind the plane, had a Styrofoam coffee cup on the trailing end just as we had for the other trips; but for this trip I rented a primitive portable loran-A, which in theory should help me find the islands. At least it would keep me amused watching all the sine waves dancing around on the cathode ray tube and it might even help.
With all this equipment it looked like I was ready to fly around the world. Packing was no trouble as I had almost no place to take personal items. A change of clothes and a toothbrush pretty well filled up the space allotted to my stuff.
In the morning of August 19, 1977 I took off from Johnstown to Bangor, Maine to clear U. S. Customs. Next stop was Moncton, Canada. After clearing customs, I reported to the Canadian Aviation Office to take the same written test which I had done two times previously when I flew the Atlantic. The pleasant official also inspected my plane for adequate safety gear and communication and navigation equipment. He said I passed and issued me a permanent clearance. I would no longer have to stop at Moncton and take the test. After three trips pilots are issued permanent clearances. He said my clearance was very rare because it was issued to me alone. Most ferry pilots worked for ferry companies and their clearances were only valid as long as they continued to work for the same company. Mine had no such restriction. I took advantage of this about nine months later when I flew to Europe again. I didn't have to stop at Moncton and be tested and inspected. After Moncton it was Gander again. I left from Goose Bay whenever I was flying the northern route to Greenland and Iceland which I did when I had a passenger on board. But I left from Gander if I was going non-stop across by myself. This time I didn't fill my ferry tanks when I left Gander and I flew non-stop over Ireland, over England, over France landing at Karlsruhe, Germany. This was because Henning Huffer lived there. Henning is by vocation a lawyer and by avocation a pilot and adventurer. I first met Henning at Kerrville, Texas at a Mooney Convention. He was flying around the world at that time in a Mooney and I had just completed my first trip to Europe and back, Henning had flown from Germany to the Fiji Islands eastbound via Asia. He had spent about a year and a half there wandering around between the islands until he ran out of money. Now he was on his way home. He had stopped at the Mooney convention to see if he could raise some money possibly from the Mooney Company to continue his trip. We immediately became friends because of our common interests, flying over oceans in Mooneys, adventures and girls. Henning had left his aircraft at Huston, Texas some distance east of Kerrville and on my way back to Pennsylvania I dropped him off
There are many tales about Henning, some true and some maybe stretched a bit. On one of his trips he flew to the Fiji's from Germany via Asia. This Henning could do with the plane's wing tanks or a small ferry tank. After a stay in the islands he wanted to continue back the Germany by crossing the Pacific. He needed larger ferry tanks. He found a round 55 gallon oil drum but it wouldn't fit through the door of the Mooney so he took it somewhere where they had a hydraulic press and partially smashed the oil drum then passed it through the doorway and used it as his ferry fuel.
Another story is that he flew from Pago Pago to Honolulu and was directed to a parking place at night. The next day when he returned to the plane he had a note from the FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) to report to their office. When he parked at night he was right under the window of the FAA office. His airplane had United States registration. The officials couldn't believe what they were seeing. He had used a number of square plastic containers like you might buy from the hardware store, grocery store or auto supply store to carry fuel. He would put a plastic hose into one container and run on it until it was dry, then take out the hose and put it into the next jug and so on. The FAA said you can't fly like that. Henning protested that he had just flown ¾ of the way around the world like that and had only one long flight ahead, to San Francisco, to complete the journey. The FAA officials were astounded but decided to look the other way and Henning completed the trip using his homemade fuel system.
Henning and I have remained friends. He has visited me when I lived in Pennsylvania and after I moved to California.. I have visited him several times in Karlsruhe, Germany. Henning later became a very successful lawyer and he married a Fiji girl, Sulu. They have four children. In spite of this Henning never lost his lust for flying adventure. He made far more transatlantic flights in light planes than I did, I crossed seven times and Henning crossed many more in various aircraft. He started ferrying aircraft for fees over the ocean. He flew around the world at least three times and probably more. He began his first round the world flight in a Mitsubishi shortly after he got his private pilot license. He still occasionally flies to Fiji and usually completes this trip by circling the globe. He stayed with me while he got his airline pilot rating in America because the training is cheaper here. He flew for Lufthansa for a while and practiced law at the same time.
I always liked to have a surplus of fuel. Henning is an expert in making long distances on small amounts of fuel. He flies all day at 1,900 rpm. with the mixture lean of peak. To me, this feels like idling the engine. But he has often flown a Mooney and other light planes across the Atlantic and back with no ferry tanks. He stops in the Faros and two times in Greenland and sometimes goes the extreme northern route stopping at the airbase, Sondestrom. These are all short legs which can be flown on the planes wing tanks if you ration your fuel as stingy as Henning does.
Henning says no more winter ocean crossings via this route. One eventful trip he was flying a new airplane in midwinter from North America to Europe via the northern route. He stopped in Goose Bay, and received a good weather forecast so he set out for Narsarsuaq on lower western Greenland. Here you fly for about 100 miles up a fiord to an airfield with an uphill runway and no go-around possibility. He was flying after dark between the stone walls of the fiord when without warning it began to snow. Within a few seconds he could see nothing. He was in solid instrument conditions below the walls of a winding stone canyon. He said to himself now I am going to die. Then he caught a glimpse of a light below. It was Eskimos fishing on the ice. He cut the power and landed wheels up on the ice. The airplane was a total loss but Henning only had a few bleeding scratches on his forehead. He was only a quarter mile from the threshold of the runway but there was no way that he could have landed. The next day he retrieved some of the planes radios.
Upon landing in Karlsruhe, a small airfield, the people there knew Henning. They telephoned him and he drove to the airport to pick me up in a short time. I had to clear customs. There was a customs office at the Karlsruhe airport but they had never serviced a plane which had arrived from America. I then took Henning to the Mooney, asked him to open the wing tanks and took a picture of him looking in amazement. The wing tanks were full! I had taken off with my ferry tanks not completely filled; I had flown 2898 statue miles in 19.5 hours and had never switched to the planes regular fuel tanks.
We partied for two days and by the third day I was having so much fun that I knew I had to leave or I might not get the whole way around the world in two months. At the airport we met a gang of girls and boys crowded in an old German vehicle which I think was a surplus military vehicle. It had no top and was a dull khaki color. It looked something like our army jeeps but it was bigger. I think they called them troop carriers. This mixed crew of people was drinking beer, singing and yelling at people on the streets and in other cars. They were following our car and yelling at us. Henning yelled back. Soon we were partying together. When they found out I had just come from America they invited us in. Their vehicle was over-crowded so a few got in our car and later I went back and rode and drank beer with them in their contraption. Eventually some of us ended up at Henning's place. People were coming and going all the time. I had had no sleep for well over 24 hours and was glad when eventually everyone wound down and went to sleep. When I woke up there were people sleeping everywhere. The beds were crowded as well as the couches and the floor.
The next evening Henning said his friend wanted to take us for a ride on the Rhine in his yacht. That sounded like a pleasant diversion from the night before. Henning said he had this large yacht and we would sail down the river, stop and have our evening meal and return. We would have a great time. About six o'clock in the evening we went to the harbor to sail away. The yacht was a retired tug boat which had pushed and pulled barges on the Rhine until it was too old to work. True, some tables and chair had been puts on the back terrace and maybe some curtains on the windows but the boat was designed for work and there was very little room for people. In spite of this it was quite pleasant. There were two German men, slightly older than Henning and me. One was the boat owner and the other was his friend. We had all brought food and of course beer and wine. A trip down the Rhine is pleasant colorful experience. I had cruised the Rhine before when I spent two years in Frankfurt am Main but one never tires of it. We sat in the back and the old men smoked their pipes and we drank from the wine and the beer. About ten miles downstream the Captain announced that we would stop and have our evening meal. The last light of day was just dieing when we dropped anchor and the meal preparation began.
Our hosts prepared bratwurst, bockwurst, sauerkraut, kartafelen and salad, a delicious meal which we washed down with more beer and wine. Then we sat and told stories. Each of us had true adventures to relate which the others had difficulty believing. I particularly enjoyed the evening because we all spoke German all night. And I got a chance to utilize the language which I might forget if I didn't exercise it. Henning speaks English just like an American and we usually converse in English.
About midnight the Captain said it was time to pull up the anchor and head back.
Before "up anchor" he would start the diesel engine which powered this huge ship. When he pushed the starter button only a weak noise emanated from the engine room. The battery did not have enough power to turn the engine. German curse words are very colorful. They set out to find the reason. In a short time it was determined that I had gone to the head about an hour and a half ago and left the light on. The light bulb in the head is about 25 watts and burning for an hour and a half should not, in my opinion, be enough to drain the battery on a ship this large. This is what I thought, but I didn't say it; as clearly it was to be blamed on me. What can we do? The captain said an automobile battery would not do. This was a big diesel and would require a more powerful source. Henning came up with an idea. We had just passed a Mercedes factory before anchoring. There was large number of new trucks waiting to be shipped. We would go over there and ask the watchman to borrow a battery.
Henning and I crawled into the dingy which we had been towing behind since we left Karlsruhe. We had the oars and wrenches to remove the battery. In the distance we could see the faint neon sign of the Mercedes factory. Henning rowed and when he tired I rowed. We wanted to move fast because the others wanted to get back to get to work the next day. At the Mercedes factory I felt like I was in a James Bond movie where the heroes land quietly on the shore at night and sneak to attack. The shore and the boat were in pitch blackness and only a neon sign which spelled out Mercedes cast a pale blue glow on the storage area where the new trucks awaited shipment. We called for a guard. We shouted at the top of our lungs but nobody responded. After some time Henning said the was only one thing that we could do, climb the eight foot fence, borrow a battery from one of the trucks, start our engine, and return the battery. So with considerable difficulty, and with each of us helping the other, we scaled the fence carrying the wrench. We opened the hood of a massive truck and there it was "our prize" a big battery. With our wrench we removed the battery and disconnected the cables. Then we closed the hood.
This battery was no small prize. One person could carry it a short distance but it was easier with two. Now we had to climb the fence with the battery and lower it down the other side. Henning climbed to the top. I hoisted with all my strength the battery above my head and Henning took it and balanced it on top of the fence. I climbed the fence; this climb we had to do with no assistance from the other person, and left myself down the other side. I then reached up and Henning eased the load into my upraised hands. We now had the battery over the fence. It was nothing to move it into the dingy and row back to the boat. We were gone one hour.
The whole Rhine and the boat was black dark but we could locate it from the lights on shore since we knew which lights we had sat by during dinner. When we rowed up the two men didn't hear us until we were in contact with the boat. They shouted,"Did you get it?? "
Henning decided to make a joke,
"We came back to get a different size of wrench.? "
The men moaned. But when we showed them the battery they were ecstatic.
Eight arms lifted the battery and the men soon connected it to the electrical system and the diesel started immediately. Now Henning and I had to return the borrowed battery. We loaded it into the rowboat and rowed back. We were getting good at this; we now had some experience. We landed the dingy, carried the battery to the fence and Henning climbed to the top. I hoisted the battery, climbed the fence and down the other side and Henning again passed the battery into my upraised hands. We opened the hood, lifted the battery into the truck and were tightening the retaining lugs.THAT'S WHEN THE POLICE ARRIVED!
That is also when I realized that Henning was going to have a highly successful career as an attorney. Henning Huffer talked the notoriously strict Deutsche Politzi into believing that we were not taking out a battery to steal it rather that we were putting it back in. So instead of handcuffing us and taking us off to jail they left us go back to our rowboat and return to the ship.
We got back to port at about 4 AM and that's when I decided to leave the next day.
Karlsruhe to Ankara, or rather to Athens
I slept a while but got up early enough to file a flight plan for Ankara, Turkey, about a ten hour flight which I should be able to do all in daylight. The weather was good and surprisingly I felt rested because I had slept most of the trip back to Karlsruhe in the boat. Every thing went fine; I was carrying less weight than I left with on my last leg. On such a nice day nothing could go wrong, that is until I followed my flight plan which crossed over communist Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. VFR (visual flight rules) flying in Europe is more like IFR (instrument flight rules) in America. The controllers order you around, tell you to turn here, climb now or descend. They also ask you often for your estimated time of arrival at your next point and perhaps the point after that. You better have all that calculated when they ask as they want it immediately. When I got to the point where my last controller wanted to hand me off to the Yugoslavian controller, the Yugoslavian controller would not accept me. I protested that I had paid for an over- crossing permit but he was not to be budged. The permit gave an exact time to the minute to enter their airspace and to leave it and I was off by several days. What to do now? I got out the maps and decided to continue down the Adriatic Sea and go around Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Athens was down there and I had never been to Greece so I decided to land at Athens. Now I'm glad that they didn't honor my over-crossing permit. I've been to Athens several times since that but the first time is the most impressive.
It is best not to fly directly across Greece to Athens because you have to keep your altitude up to cross the mountains and the airport lies near the base of the mountains just after crossing them. Best is to approach Athens low over the Mediterranean Sea from the south.
The next day, after a brief tour of the city including the Parthenon, I prepared for a flight to Ankara where I thought I was going when I left Germany.
I made an early morning takeoff from Athens for the 520 sm. flight to Ankara, Turkey. The weather was perfect and visibility was unrestricted. Beneath me the blue Mediterranean Sea was dotted with Greek Islands. Ships cruised the surface leaving white trails on the dark water. Smaller boats did not move and had nets spread in circles near them to entrap the fish. When I crossed the western shore of Turkey the Mooney was flying for the first time over Asia.
Four hours later I landed at Ankara International Airport, parked and cleared customs. The taxi driver that took me to an economical hotel suggested that he wait and offered me a very reasonable price for a tour in his cab of the city. I accepted his offer.
Ankara is the capital of Turkey and probably the most European city in Turkey. It is also well known for the University located there. On this sunny afternoon clusters of students streamed the streets and clogged the bars. The cabby gave an interesting running commentary and eventually dropped me off at a pleasant outdoor restaurant for my evening meal.
The next morning I repeated my itinerary, arising early for a prompt start. By eight AM I was flying eastward toward Teheran, in Iran, a distance of 1,092 sm. which would take about eight hours. The majority of the flight was over mountainous region. I flew at 13,500 feet breathing from my oxygen tank but conserving the gas because I would rarely have and opportunity to refill the tank. The high altitude and clear air allowed me to see a lake far in the distance to the north which I think was Lake Sevan in the center of Armenia. Two years prior in 1975 I had flown commercial into Yerevan, the capital Armenia and had taken a bus about 50 miles to Lake Sevan, a beautiful mountain body of blue water. That evening we dined at a shoreline restaurant on fresh trout caught in the lake. The last quarter of the trip paralleled the south shore of the Caspian Sea separated only from my flight path by a few high mountains and some low hills. Between the hills at my altitude I could see the Caspian Sea. In 1975 as part of a medical tour of the Soviet Union I also visited Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Baku lies about 200 miles to the north of my route and I had gone out on the piers to the oil derricks. The Soviets wanted to show off their petroleum production. The oil from the Caspian Sea was clear and light yellow colored. According to our guides this oil could safely be taken directly from the ground and directly put in the crankcase of an automobile engine without further refining. I peered into the distance and attempted to spot one of the oil derricks but I never identified one. On the 1975 trip we also visited Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia and Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.
I landed at the major international airport at Teheran. The Shah was still in power in 1977 and there were no international problems. The city was congested with automobile traffic and heavy smog filled the air. I crossed the downtown streets very cautiously as the vehicles sped past from all directions and paid little attention to a pedestrian who might want to get to the other side. The city appeared to me to be a busy metropolis with no adversity toward Americans.
In the morning there was no trouble getting 100 octane gasoline but when I asked for a liter of oil for my engine it created quite a problem. Nobody seemed to have a can of oil. Various personal at the airport discussed it in Farsi. This country is one of the major oil producers in the world but it appeared to be a major problem for me to get a liter of oil. Eventually they went to another office and brought papers for me to fill out. The form asked extensive information including my name, address, pilot's license number, flight plan including where I came from and were I was going and my signature. After the paper was signed I was brought a can of oil which I put in the engine.
I took off from Karachi, Pakistan flying southeast at 15,000 feet and rationing my breathing oxygen by keeping my breathing rate lower than normal. I would take a breath of the oxygen then hold my breath for as long as I could then take another breath. This is the same method that I use when I SCUBA dive and which has allowed me to get much longer dives from one tank than most divers. Even the professional divers who guided our underwater tour would empty their tanks before me. In the plane I did not have a demand system like a SCUBA regulator but I could turn the flow down and slowly fill the balloon then take a breath and hold it until the balloon filled again.
The land below me was unusual; a very high rolling desert plain. The surface was between 7,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level. I had never seen relatively flat land this high. Only the snow cap covering Greenland had similar terrain. There were large areas of dry salt beds with little or no vegetation. The trip began with scattered clouds but the cloud layer gradually increased to 85% coverage. Teheran to Karachi is 1165 sm. I would make it in about eight hours with a light tailwind. Near the end of my flight I began flying over the Arabian Sea following the shoreline of southern Pakistan to Karachi.
Karachi is a seaport and is one of the largest cities in the world with a population of about nine million and a traffic problem. It is the economic hub of Pakistan and was the capital until the mid sixties when it was moved to Islamabad which is located nearer to the center of the country. Once again the persistent taxi drivers approached me as soon as I exited the airport touting their services of a tour of the city which was to be included with a ride to a hotel. I accepted one man's offer and we were off, The best known landmark of Karachi is the Tomb of the Founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He posed me in front of the monument and took my photo. I carry a small camera on my trips but I take few photos. In my early travels I carried no camera. I preferred to blend as much as possible into the native inhabitants. I felt that I could learn more about the people if they did not, at first glance, identify me as a tourist. I had traveled a good bit of the world and I liked to feel that the memories in my mind were my photographs. I enjoyed studying the other cultures but I didn't want the natives to realize that I was closely observing them. In retrospect, I realize that I live and enjoy the present moment more than the past or the future. But I made an exception and did allow the taxi driver to take my picture like a common tourist.
The next morning I crossed India. I had gotten landing permission for Bombay (now Mumbai) which is on the west coast as well as Calcutta which is on the East coast. However because I was behind my loosely planned agenda I decided not to stop at Bombay and to continue to Calcutta.
The lower part of the Indian sub-continent is flat; it was summer and monsoon season. The trip from Karachi to Calcutta via Mumbai is 1, 553 sm. and required 11 hours most of it in IFR conditions. The majority of it was in solid monsoon rains. I had little or no winds or turbulence but the rain was continuous and heavy. The rain poured in such volume that it was easy to imagine that all this water would drown out the engine. But the Lycoming ran steady through it all. The heavy rain fell from the sky vertically. There was no wind to make gusts. Of course I flew through it and the water struck the aircraft at 140 mph. I usually flew slow even over land for most of this trip, not because I had to extend my range, but because the price of fuel was so high. I flew less than my usual cruising speed to conserve fuel. I rarely saw land this leg and I never saw sky. In general I just cruised along with always the same weather conditions.
Flying by instruments is a skill to be learned which gives the pilot a very satisfying experience when all goes well. I can remember taking off from Johnstown in the Mooney, climbing into the clouds cruising in a consistent cloud layer with no turbulence, no sight of land or view of the sky and descending into Indianapolis, breaking out at 400 feet with the runway directly ahead of me. This gives a feeling of accomplishment. Your own skill and intelligence brought you across three states with no visual clues.
But sometimes things don't go as well. I remember one time returning home between layers on a dark night with no stars or moon and, of course, no lights to see on the ground. I sensed something was wrong but I didn't know what. I felt G forces on my body but I was hand flying the plane and had attitude indicator perfectly centered. I looked at the turn and bank indicator and saw that the plane was in a 45 degree bank. A glance at the vacuum gage told me that the vacuum pump had failed. I moved the controls to stop the turn and pulled back on the yoke to arrest the descent. The plane had been in a steep descending spiral, just short of a spin but I had been following the artificial horizon as a pilot usually does on instruments. I centered and stabilized the altitude. Everything outside was black. My body was shaking but I had the aircraft under control. Now just fly it without losing it. I knew that there was plenty of room below the clouds and I was over flat land so I asked the controller for a non-gyro descent through the overcast. I didn¡¯t care what direction I went as long as I got under where I could see lights on the ground. I had to cover the attitude indicator with one hand. I found it impossible to fly using the compass and turn and bank indicator with the artificial horizon at a 45 degree angle. All of simulation for partial panel instrument flight is done by blocking off the faulty instrument. With my left hand covering this gauge after a while I held a steady heading during descent. When I saw lights below and excellent visibility I cancelled instrument flight and continued home visually.
It was after dark when I landed at Calcutta International. After parking my plane an attendant put a chain and a padlock on the door handle so that nobody could open it including me. I had gotten my overnight case out but I wasn't sure that I had everything that I wanted. This didn't matter to him. When I said that I might want to get something out of the airplane he said that was not possible.
I found my way to a hotel and this time I didn't take a tour of the city. Calcutta is an extremely poor city noted for its poverty. Mother Teresa worked with its poor citizens and there is the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta, a prison where in 1756 a large number of prisoners died from being confined in a small space with little or no air. It was dark when I left the airport so I stayed nearby and left early the next day.
I had obtained permission to land in Myanmar (previously Burma) but once again I decided to over-fly it. The government was not very pro-American and the place was notorious for the price of fuel. It would have been interesting to me but not enough to invest the time and money. So I filed my flight plan for Bangkok, 1035 sm., about a seven hour flight.
Thailand is known as the land of smiles and with good reason. During my stay I cannot recall a single person who was impolite or appeared to be in a bad mood. I landed at Don Muang International Airport and found and inexpensive hotel. The prices in Thailand at that time were very reasonable. Don Muang is now replaced by the new Suvarnbhumi (pronounced su-wan-na-poom) Airport. I had visited Bangkok before and had seen many Buddhist temples and had taken an elephant ride and a tour up the river. This time I settled into a slow pace after the hectic days of daily flying. I spent a good bit of time by the river shore where hundreds of wooden skiffs lined the banks, many of them selling vegetables, fruit and other foodstuffs. Other boats sold most anything imaginable including clothes. This was known as the floating market. The shore was lined with open air restaurants and bars. I could sit at an open air restaurant for hours nursing a beer observing the throng of mankind.
One day I met a young girl named Lila in one of the restaurants and I asked her out for the evening. She accepted and we had a long pleasant dinner while she told me tales of Thai culture and stories about Bangkok. She said she was going to go home on Sunday, the next day, to celebrate the birthday of her uncle, who was a retired navy admiral and somewhat of a celebrity, and asked if I wanted to accompany her. I took her up on her offer and the next day we caught a train northward. After about 20 miles we exited and walked about a mile and a half to her home. It was on stilts to keep it dry during the rainy season and had a thatched roof.
About 20 people had gathered to celebrate the birthday and, like me, most had brought a present. The group sat cross-legged in a circle on the floor. The admiral sat at the head of the circle. He wore the coat of his naval uniform and a sarong. The food was served from a large pot in the center. The family suggested that I sit on the couch because they felt that I would have trouble sitting cross-legged. They were right. I felt quite comfortable with the jovial crowd and we laughed at many things even though we understood only a small amount of what we said to each other. As evening approached Lila and I caught the train back to Bangkok. After three relaxing days I reluctantly prepared to leave.
Singapore was my next stop; 906 sm. almost due south and on the equator. The view from my cockpit was marvelous. I followed the east shore of the Thai Peninsula. White beaches edged with palm trees alternated with rocky shores and lush green jungle grew almost to the water's edge. Sea birds soared below me. Six hours of impeccable flight landed me in Singapore.
Singapore is one of only four city-states remaining in the world. It is a progressive modern country of only 267 sq. mi. on an island at the end of the Malaysian Peninsula. There are two modern airports in Singapore, a large international airport, and a smaller airport for private aviation named Seletur. My advisors at Flo Air had recommended that I stop at the Piper dealer and have a check up before starting over the Pacific Ocean. The service there was excellent. I was not yet due for a hundred hour inspection so I asked them only to give my plane a thorough examination. They changed the oil and checked the plane, finding nothing that I should be concerned about. I felt very comfortable with their service. I was even able to refill my oxygen tank.
While I was in Singapore I called home and was distressed to learn that my mother. Who was 85 years old, had fallen and broken her hip. This is a tragic thing for old people because they must be bedridden and it is important that the elderly keep moving or they deteriorate rapidly. She had always been active and never been ill. She had lived by herself, taking care of her own house and preparing her own meals. I made the decision to speed my progress around the gloge to return to care for her.
While I was in Singapore I called home and was distressed to learn that my mother. Who was 85 years old, had fallen and broken her hip. This is a tragic thing for old people because they must be bedridden and it is important that the elderly keep moving or they deteriorate rapidly. She had always been active and never been ill. She had lived by herself, taking care of her own house and preparing her own meals. I made the decision to speed my progress around the globe to return to care for her.
From Singapore I flew southeastward following the Indonesian Islands of Sumatra and Java. I had obtained permission to land at Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia but I decided to eliminate this stop to arrive home sooner. Instead I made another long flight of 2.200 sm. in 15 hours and 40 minutes form Singapore to Darwin, Australia. Darwin is on the north coast of Australia.
After a night's rest I flew to Mount Isa in central Australia a distance of 776 sm. in a little less than six hours. I refueled and bought a few opals to take home as gifts. The region is noted for excellent opals and there is a shop in the small terminal which sold unmounted stones. I could not take anything in the plane which had any significant weight and this appeared to be a good solution to how I could bring gifts home with essentially no weight. From there I headed northeast to Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef, a distance of 427 sm., which I completed in three hours. Both of these legs totaled nine hours of flying. This seemed like an easy day compared to the Singapore-Darwin marathon. I completed both legs in daylight in spite of the fact that I was now in the southern hemisphere in mid-winter and the days were shorter than the nights. I flew slightly out of my way to go to Cairns because one of the things that I really wanted to do on this trip was dive on the Great Barrier Reef. The following morning I took a boat out to Green Island and rented mask, fins and snorkel. I got to snorkel all day and took the boat back in the evening. The reef was everything that I had dreamed. This day gave me a memory that will remain with me the rest of my life.
Now it was time to get home. Brisbane was to be my jumping off point for crossing the Pacific. Cairns to Brisbane is 910 sm. following the coast of Australia southwesterly. It took me six hours.
The Blue Giant
Now the fun would begin. When I left the shoreline behind at Brisbane I had 5,692 sm. Miles, equivalent to 110 degrees of longitude or over 30 percent of the diameter of the earth at the equator, until I reached any solid ground other than small islands in the Pacific.
I must confess my heart was beating faster as I left land behind and steered northeastward. I had 1,294 sm. to go before landing at Suva in the Fiji islands. I flight planned for 9 hours and 15 minutes. Half way there I spotted New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands off my port wing.
The typical flying weather in the South Pacific is different from the North Atlantic. Unless there is a tropical storm when I have no business flying, the weather is generally balmy with scattered fluffy clouds. There is always a cloud over an island because the land warms faster than the water in the sunshine causing the air above to heat and rise. The winds are usually light and the ocean below is clearly visible and calm. The word Pacific means calm and that is what the water and the weather is like unless it gets angry in a storm in which case it gets extremely angry.
Flying direct across the North Atlantic to Europe is different. On the typical crossing a low marine cloud layer blocks any view of the water and you fly above it. The winds can be stronger and affect your speed and direction. The winds are usually steady thus turbulence is rare. Taking the northern route from Goose Bay to Greenland and Iceland is different. Apparently the cooler temperatures inhibit the marine layer and the ocean with its icebergs can usually be seen from the plane. I am glad for this because you must find the fiord at Narsarsuaq, Greenland.
Everything went well on this leg and I landed at Suva airport before dark. Henning had asked me to do him a favor when I got to Fiji which I did. He asked me to look up one of his past girlfriends and give her a message from him. I had considerable difficulty locating her because everywhere I went the neighbors said she had moved to another location. Eventually I was successful in tracking her down and passed Henning¡¯s message.
As for myself, I stayed at the Holiday Inn near the airport. This was a small motel-like accommodation, not the large Holiday Inn resort which has been built since 1977. The girl that worked in the gift shop was pretty. I invited her to dinner that evening. It turned out that she was Miss Fiji in the Miss Universe pageant. Between hunting down Henning's ex-girlfriend and Miss Fiji, I stayed two days in Suva then left for Pago Pago a distance of 595 sm. which I planed to cover in 4 hours, 25 minutes. Shortly before landing in Pago Pago I would gain a day because I would cross the International Date Line.
Pago Pago (pronounced pang-go pang- go) is in West Samoa. I landed and took a room at a small hotel near the airport and got some rest because the next leg from Pago Pago to Honolulu was the longest flight completely over water. It was 2,500 sm. (about 18 hours) I had made non-stop flights greater than that but not all over water. For the first time ever all of the tanks were filled to the brim. The aircraft had never been tested nor flown at this weight or with the center of gravity this far aft.. The temperature was 100 degrees. I waited until evening when the temperature was lower then I backed my plane into the grass before the approach area of the runway, ran up the engine and released the brakes.
(My original intention was to slow the pace of my travel and spend some time in the South Sea Islands sitting on the beach and writing the story of my trip. When I found out that my mother was in the hospital I made the decision to precede home with no undue delay. I did, however, do some writing both on the ground and while flying. I have put in italics the portion of this story which was written at the time that it occurred.)
This description was written in 1977 while flying.
The plane lumbered forward, climbed onto the hard 8,000 ft. runway and accelerated. I was concerned to see if it would fly but it lifted off at the first quarter of the 8,000 ft. runway. I flew very carefully. I talked to myself, "very gradual turns, keep the airspeed up, climb slowly" She flew well but I didn't want to challenge it. Very slowly I turned around the mountain and headed nearly north for Honolulu 18 hours away. I left in the evening and flew through the night to have a daylight arrival. I took the first heading from the outbound VOR radial. About 100 miles out the VOR could no longer be received. Now it was my job to hold this heading.
There is an emergency airport about halfway but several hundred miles to the east of my course on an atoll called Christmas Island. There are two Christmas Islands one in the Indian Ocean and under control of Australia and this one in the Pacific. One of the ferry pilots, who I became friends with, told the following story: The ferry pilots like to keep a map into which they stick pins to show where they have been, He had flown delivery flights which went from Honolulu to Pago Pago several times. This time he decided to stop at Christmas Island just to be able to put another pin into his map. He filled a flight plan for there. He was following the ADF signal when they suddenly went off the air. The electricity is powered by a gasoline generator and they turn it off to save fuel when they don't have a plane scheduled to land. He turned toward Pago Pago and flew for a while then the ADF from Christmas Island came back on the air. He turned back toward the signal then it went off the air again. He turned again toward Pago Pago but now it was a question if he would have enough fuel to make it. He made it but with little fuel to spare. I made no plans to land on this atoll.
(written on the trip)
You might wonder what I thought about the risk of flying 18 hours over the ocean without any sight of land in a single engine airplane with four cylinders. The most severe emergency, of course, is engine failure. The odds of spontaneous sudden engine failure in a properly maintained piston driven aircraft engine are infinitesimally small. Most engine failures are pilot errors for example, in switching fuel tanks, fuel contamination problems, or poor preflight inspection; something that the pilot or proper maintenance could have prevented. N-300 MD had won first place as the best single engine aircraft at the Reading Air show. This, at that time, was called the National Air show. She won against large numbers of newer and more expensive airplanes. In theory this represented the best single engine aircraft in the United States. Part of the judging was a detailed examination of the maintenance records which were good enough to win first place. I considered myself to be flying the best maintained single engine plane in America. I felt that the chance of this engine failing in the next 18 hours was so extremely tiny that I was willing to take this risk for the thrill of making this journey. Navigation problems were more likely.
Navigation over 2,500 miles of trackless Pacific to find an island is a serious matter. There was no GPS on which to rely but I did have an early Loran. When I considered this trip, I regarded the Loran as superfluous. The word Loran is an acronym for long range navigation. Up until now I had always been able to head in the general direction of my destination and pick up the ADF as I approached it and home in on it. The last 100 or so miles would be directed by the VOR. In general the ADF was easier to pick up at night as was the HF communication frequencies.
I flew northward and in a few hours darkness fell. When you are at the equator darkness really falls with a boom. It changes from light to dark within a few minutes. In contrast when you are at high latitudes the evenings are long, with daylight gradually fading into night. Above the Arctic Circle and below the Antarctic Circle the sun can never set at certain times of the year and never rise for other times of the year. At the Equator when the sun drops below the horizon the period of dusk which follows is very short.
In the middle of the Pacific, miles from land, there is no smog problem, and no lights on land to compete with the light of the stars. Thousands of stars (could it be billions?) lit up the sky. I spotted the Southern Cross which can't be seen in the northern hemisphere. It wasn't hard to recognize. There was no question what it was.
An airplane seems to run smoother at night. Turbulence is less because the earth doesn't warm the air and cause it to rise. But, in spite of all my previous experience with night flying and trans-oceanic flying, I maintain a state of hyper-alertness. For example I was always aware of how much time I had flown on each tank and when to expect the tank to go empty. I would be expecting it. In long distance flying one allows the tank to run dry before switching. When the tank goes empty the engine quits and I immediately switch to another tank at which time the engine starts running again. (I hope) Even though I would be expecting this to happen for 15 to 20 minutes when the engine stops my heart jumps into my throat and when I switch to a full tank and the engine restarts I start breathing again.
I was disappointed because I was picking up little or nothing on my ADF at night when the reception should be the best. I would have to rely on the Loran. This was not the modern Loran which you turn on and you read your location in a similar manner that you might read a GPS. This required 13 steps to acquire and confirm a signal. After this you took the number which appeared on the digital readout and compared it to numbers corresponding to curved lines on a Loran chart. Then you repeated these 13 steps for a second station, preferably at right angles to the first line and you would be at the intersection of these lines on the map. After playing with it for about half an hour I had locked into the Loran transmitter in Hawaii. Getting a second station was not as easy but now and then I would pick one up. This did not matter to me because what I wanted to know was am I on the right track to Hawaii. The cross station would tell me how far I had progressed on this track but I would have a good enough estimate of that by knowing my time en route. All I had to do was keep the number in the window on the Loran stable and I would get to Hawaii.
Night changed into a beautiful daybreak and I was still motoring on. The tropical weather god was being good to me. I was beginning to pick up Honolulu VOR. Another 10 minutes and the DME (distance measuring equipment) began to flicker. Within 10 seconds it was stable reading 120 nautical miles to the airport. A normal approach and landing followed at busy Honolulu International completing the longest unbroken over water leg.; 2,500 sm. without sighting land. If I had not had the Loran on board I would not have found Hawaii. I never picked up an ADF signal.
The Longest Hop
I found a room at the airport and called home. My sister, Eleanor answered; she was distraught. She said, "You better hurry home. Mother is not good. She might not make it. You better get the next airliner back or you might be too late."
Of course I was troubled. I called the airlines asking the schedule Honolulu to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. All of the connections were terrible. The first plane out of Honolulu would not leave for some time. Then I could go to San Francisco or Los Angeles, then long waits between planes, then stops and plane changes on the way to Pittsburgh, then a long wait for a commuter to Johnstown. I decided to fly the Mooney.
I slept six to eight hours then began to fuel the plane. There were no customs to clear out of Hawaii to the mainland. This saved some time. Once again I began my flight from Honolulu to San Francisco in the evening. The temperature is lower and the night air is calmer. I would arrive in the United States and make my landing in the daylight. The distance is 2,400 sm. This is 100 miles shorter than my last leg.
On the last leg I had not used any fuel out of the aircraft's main tanks. This time I wanted to see how far I could fly on the 199 gallons of fuel which I had on board. The total weight of the fuel was 1,196 lbs and the airplane would fly differently when it was 25% over legal gross weight than when the fuel tanks were empty. I could easily fly to San Francisco then continue over land and, when I was able to calculate my maximum range, choose an airport just short of running out of fuel.
Shortly after take off in the early evening it turned dark. This flight seemed easier because navigation would be simple. If I headed east eventually I would arrive at the west coast of California. I certainly didn't expect to fly with no navigational information but if I had to I could arrive there without it.
I remember one time flying in the Mooney from Denver to my home base in Torrance, California. I was in clear VFR conditions when I lost all electric power. The engine in a piston powered plane continues to run because the spark is generated by magnetos. I simply continued my journey over Utah, Nevada and California until I came to the coast. I then followed it southward to Los Angeles. I crossed above the class B, controlled airspace which went up to 12,000ft., went out over the ocean, descended and returned under the class B airspace to the Torrance airport. I made a low pass over the tower, rocked my wings and returned for a landing. The tower gave me a green light to approve my landing.
When I left Honolulu I had headwinds for the first 100 miles then they turned into tailwinds. I flew through the night and into the daylight. When I was half way between Hawaii and California I was 1,000 miles from the nearest land in any direction. This is the only point on earth where this is true. You might wonder what it is like to be 1,000 miles from land in a single engine airplane with four cylinders. Did I sleep? No. The adrenaline in my bloodstream would prevent that. I had an autopilot but the altitude hold didn't work. Thus most of the time I would set the heading but monitor the altitude. With the airplane trimmed, the altitude stayed fairly steady but not enough for me to trust it to go to sleep. I tried closing my eyes for a short time but I couldn't keep them closed. After about 30 seconds I would open one eye and look at the altimeter. Approximately 17 hours after take-off I crossed over San Francisco. At that point I cancelled IFR and continued VFR.
All the airspace above 5,000 ft. over oceans is controlled airspace. Flying in controlled airspace must be done by Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). IFR means theoretically that the controller on the ground commands the pilot in the air what to do. Over land this is what actually happens and the pilot is assigned an altitude and a flight path. The pilot has to ask the controller's permission to change altitude or heading. This is to avoid collisions between airplanes. You may legally fly over the ocean below 5,000 ft. without contacting the controller on the ground but this is not practical for long distances. In reality there are almost no other airplanes in the middle of the ocean at the altitudes that I fly.
You might wander how I took care of bathroom necessities. I carried a plastic jar to urinate into and this was relatively easy. But what if I had to move my bowels? This trip represented the fifth time that I had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and I had made many other flights of over 12 hours and as of then, I had never had to move my bowels during a flight - but this time I did. But I was always prepared. I had stashed a plastic garbage bag and a small roll of toilet just for such an emergency. It is used like this.
I had good tailwinds and by this time I was flying the plane on long range cruise burning very little fuel. I calculated that I could comfortably make it to the Chicago region and decided to set my destination as Joliet, Illinois. The weather good but I was flying above the clouds. When I checked the weather at Joliet I found that the airport was below instrument conditions because of ground fog. The controller said it would probably lift by the time I got there but didn't feel comfortable with the term "probably" so I changed my destination to Des Moines, Iowa and landed. I had flown 4000 sm. in 27 hours and 20 minutes. I still had two hours of fuel. This is probably a distance record for a Mooney.
It was after dark when I landed. I told the tower operator when I was on final that I had just flown non-stop from Honolulu. He didn't seem to care the least bit. I had left at dusk and had flown in the opposite direction that the earth rotated thus my days were shorter and I had to turn my wristwatch six hours ahead. I laid flat on a wooden bench in the terminal and fell asleep for four or five hours. Then I got up, refueled the plane and continued on to Johnstown where I had started. When I landed I had 183 hours of flying time in 29 days and had flown 25,280 sm. (21,983nm.) I arrived home at approximately the same time as I would have if I had flown commercial from Honolulu.
After landing in Johnstown, I put my plane in my hangar, got in my car and drove the 30 miles to Somerset Hospital where my mother was. She was OK but she couldn't walk. I spent most of the next few days with her then moved her to a nursing home in Johnstown.
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